Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Patch of Violets - Part 2

This is an excerpt from my book in progress, "Songs of Abundance and Beauty: The Stories of Josiah."

My talk with Hector really gave me a lot to ponder. I will admit that it scared me a little bit. Well, a whole lot, actually, and for a while I didn’t want to think of the outside world. I just went on with my normal life, and it was pretty good. I continued to see Lila just about every morning, and the time we spent in the grassy corner of the yard became “our time,” something we looked forward to each day. She usually seemed to get there before me, and I could always find her near a little patch of those bluish-purple flowers she loved so much, which she called ‘violets.’

Lila would talk to me about many things – her mother, how she missed her brothers and sisters who were taken away, and living in this place with so many other bunnies. I would talk about some of that stuff too, but more and more we began to discuss what was beyond the fence. We would sit next to each other and smell the tiny wisps of fragrance that came our way, carried by the wind from faraway places, and we would try to imagine what was causing those wonderfully exotic aromas.

It was on one of those mornings, after it had rained the night before and the sun was shining through dark banks of purple clouds, that she turned to me and said, “We have to get out of this place.” I turned and looked at her in surprise, because she had never said that to me so plainly and simply. But I could tell it was something she felt strongly about, and had spent a lot of time considering. I asked her if she was sure of what she was saying and she said yes, she was. Then I told her from everything I had heard, the outside world is a scary and unforgiving place, and there would be many things we would need to worry about that we don’t have to here. She said she understood things would be a lot tougher than they are now, and that we might not last long out there, but she said she had to try and she could not think of anyone whom she would rather be with than me. I can’t tell you how good that made me feel, and also how frightened.

So, we went about trying to figure a way out. We thought of many things, but there were always barriers or obstacles we could not get around. One afternoon I was just sitting and minding my own business when the gate to our living area opened up and a couple of humans brought in a big cart kind of thing, loaded with food and hay. They did this every so often and no one paid much attention to it, since it has been going on as long as anyone can remember. There was always one human who guarded the gate and kept it closed, so no one could get out. They always pulled the cart back out once it was unloaded, so something went off in my head that this was a way out. I snuck around the other side of the cart where no one could see me and ran under it, between these two great big round things. I looked up and saw a small shelf kind of thing underneath, which looked like it might be big enough for two bunnies. If we could get underneath and jump up onto the shelf, it might be our way out of here. I dashed out from under the cart and the next morning Lila and I talked about what I saw. We decided we would try to escape the next time that cart came in.

We got our chance a couple of days later when the cart came back in. I ran over to her and got her as fast as I could.

“Follow me, Lila,” I said breathlessly. “This is our chance!”

She and I ran to one side of the barn and next to the cart, hidden from the view of the humans. I ran underneath and hopped up onto the shelf. Much to my horror, I found the shelf was a lot smaller than I thought, and there was barely enough room for me.

“Lila, try to jump up next to me. I don’t know if you can do it!”

She got under me and jumped up. She landed on top of me and we tried very hard to stay on the shelf, but once it started moving she lost her footing and slipped off, onto the ground. She looked up at me with fear in her eyes.

“Josiah, I don’t think I’m going to be able to go with you. There’s just not enough room for us both!”

“Lila, don’t give up!” I cried urgently. “We can do it, I know we can. Try to jump up again!”

The big round things started to turn and the cart lurched backwards, toward the gate. Lila started to follow but had to run back to the barn. What she said next made my heart break.

“Goodbye, Josiah,” she said. “Please take care of yourself and stay safe. I will never forget you.”

The cart started moving faster and I became very scared. I could not move as I felt myself being shaken and jostled about. I took one last look at her and felt like crying.

The cart continued moving and although I could see just a little bit of the ground under me, it started to change and look like nothing I had ever seen. Those big four-legged things sounded louder and closer than ever before. Then the cart started to shake violently up and down. I could no longer keep my balance and fell off the shelf to the ground. I looked around and could not recognize anything, I had no idea where I was. The only thing I saw was some tall grasses and plants that I had only seen on the other side of the fence. Something told me that is where I had to be, so I took off running for them as fast as I could. A couple of seconds after I did some of those four-legged things started to howl and make an awful noise, and one of the humans nearby started hollering and screaming, but I was not about to stop. I saw a couple of the four-legged things take off after me, but I really turned on the speed and took off into the low bushes, where tangled branches and sharp thorns kept the four-legged things from following me. I had escaped!

I ran and ran for a very long time. I ran until my lungs burned and my legs ached. It was almost like I couldn’t stop myself. Eventually I had to stop, because I came across this ribbon of running water, something I had never seen or imagined before. Good thing, too, because I was really thirsty. I went over and drank and drank. As I did I looked into the water and saw something amazing – clouds! There were clouds on the surface of the water. I had never seen that before and wondered, what kind of inside-out world had I landed in?

I lifted my head and looked about – around me everywhere was space! Open space, lots of space. No fences, no barn, no anything. Just trees and plants and hills and sky. The ground felt cool and damp, just like Hector had warned, but it didn’t feel awful. I was overwhelmed with new sights and sounds and strong smells I had never before experienced. I was more terrified than I had ever been but I was also excited and thrilled and happy, as never before. Is this what Hector meant by the taste of freedom?

It got dark really quickly in this new place, and it was the darkest dark I had ever seen. The sky was covered with clouds, which made it even worse. I found a place to hide under some thick bushes and I just sat there, not sleeping just listening to everything around me. There were a lot of scary sounds which I couldn’t identify. It made me wish for a second I was back in my regular sleeping place with the other bunnies in the barn.

The next morning finally came and I watched the sun rise up out of its cushion of clouds as I had always done, but this time it seemed different. I saw other animals stirring and moving about, so cautiously I came out from my hiding place and wandered around a bit, never getting too far from the place I felt was a little bit safe. Gradually I became slightly more comfortable in moving about but never really relaxed. I was still extremely vigilant and aware of everything around me, and this became the new normal for me. I found a number of things to eat, some familiar but most completely new to me and I wasn’t always sure I liked them. But often, I didn’t have much of a choice.

My days became basically a long period of hiding and staying out of sight, between periods of searching for food, when the sun came up and when it went down. A couple of evenings later I looked up into the sky and saw Grandfather Moon, the first time since I came to this new world. He had turned into Grandbaby Moon, a thin sliver low in the sky, and he was starting his life-cycle again. It was so great to see something familiar again, and it made me think of the place I left. I wondered if Lila was looking up right now, gazing at the same moon I was, and thinking about me. I suddenly realized how much I missed her and how I wished she was here with me.

I saw a lot of other animals I had never seen before and most were pretty scary-looking. A couple of them took off chasing me and it scared me nearly to death, but I was able to get away from them. One of them almost caught me, and for a second I thought I was done for. It was only because of my strong back legs and the fact that I can change direction in a fraction of a second did I get away. My heart felt like it was going to explode inside my chest and I realized that staying alive out here involved a great deal of skill and ability, but also a lot of luck.

My luck nearly ran out on me when I was looking for some water at night, when I heard something that sounded like very quiet hissing, coming up above and behind me. Instinctively I jumped aside and whirled around, and something big and dark charged out of the sky right at me. Again my instincts told me to run as fast as I could, and I did. I felt some sharp things dig into the skin on my back and I dropped down and flipped over as fast as I could, and whatever it was lost its grip on me. I was able to dart under some bushes and get shelter, but my back hurt terribly bad and I felt some warm liquid run down my side under my fur. My back hurt even worse the following morning and for days afterward, but I got used to it.

After a while it became hard to find anything good to eat so I had to travel a lot further than I ever had before. One day while searching for some food I suddenly felt like I was being watched. I looked up and a little way off from me was another rabbit, the first one I had seen in what felt like ages. I froze in my spot and our eyes just locked on each other. It was a brown and black rabbit with huge, huge ears. It looked right at me with enormous eyes, and I didn’t know what to say. We were both breathing very hard.

I thought I would try the regular greeting so I said, “May wellness and joy be upon you.” There was no answer, so I decided to try again, and repeated the greeting.

Before I had a chance to finish it, the other rabbit said very loudly, “WHO ARE YOU?” I was startled because it was a female’s voice, with a thick accent I could barely understand, although I found it really charming and attractive.

“My name is Josiah,” I said, “and I was looking for something to eat. I haven’t eaten in a long while and can’t seem to..."

“What are you doing here?” the other rabbit barked at me. She continued to look at me with great suspicion, and I knew she did not trust me one bit.

“I left the place where I had been living, to find out what there is to see,” I said, with a lot of hesitation, because I really didn’t know how to explain where I came from. “I was living in a big place with a lot of other rabbits and –“

“I know the place you came from,” she said sharply. “You have the smell of humans about you.”

I didn’t know what to say to that, so I tried to change the subject. “Where do you come from?” I asked. “Are there any other rabbits around like you? I haven’t seen another rabbit in a very long time and I am getting very lonely.”

Her eyes seemed to soften up just a tiny bit and she said, “I live in a warren with a lot of other rabbits. We have been watching you closely ever since you came into our range.”

My eyes opened wide and I got really excited. “There are other rabbits around?” I asked. “Can I meet them?”

“No, you can’t,” she snapped, with no emotion. “The others will attack you and chase you away. We don’t want anyone like you around. You have been touched by humans, and you can never live with us.”

Crestfallen, I looked down at the ground and felt sad. Is this how my life was going to be from now on? I looked up and asked, “Can you at least tell me where I can find something to eat?”

“Go across the field over there, to the left of that hill,” she said, motioning with her ears. “There you will find a good feeding area, with leaves and berries.” She continued looking at me with that same unwavering, suspicious gaze.

“Go there and do not ever come back here. If you do, the others will kill you.” With that, she turned around and disappeared instantly into the thickets. I just stood there, my jaw dropped open with shock, and I could not believe that even other rabbits wanted to kill me. What kind of horrible place is this, I thought. Even though I felt really bad at times, I also knew this was the place I needed to be. At least, I thought, for now.

The days went on, over and over like this, each day pretty much the same: wake up, forage for food, keep an eye out at all times for something that wanted to eat me, run like heck when chased, which was often, get so frightened you’d think you were dying, find a little bit of quiet time when you could relax. I watched Grandfather Moon as he grew fatter and eventually became a big round ball in the sky. I could feel that I was getting skinny, but I never felt tired. I got used to being on high alert all the time. A couple of times it rained really hard and I got soaking wet and very cold, but I got through it. I cut my feet on something several times and I started sporting a number of wounds and scabs. But still, every day was thrilling and harrowing and interesting, and I have to say I started to enjoy myself and my new life.

But one evening, I looked up into the sky at Grandfather Moon and he had once again turned into a skinny crescent in the sky. I looked down at the ground near my feet and I could not believe what I saw. There was a little patch of violets, just like the ones Lila loved so much. I looked at those violets and felt something change inside me. I looked at them and realized I missed Lila more than anything, and I needed to see her again. It was exciting and fascinating and terrifying out here, but I realize what I was really missing in my life, and that was seeing Lila. Is that what Hector was trying to tell me, what seems like a long, long time ago - that in order to live out here on my own, I had to give up Lila and spending time with her? Is that what I had to trade for something that he called “freedom?” If so, I began to understand I made the wrong choice. I realized that Lila meant more to me than anything I had experienced out here.

I made up my mind at that second, that I had to go back.

To be continued...

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